Snapshot 02: Heisler’s Cloverleaf Dairy …

I came across this postcard (above) on eBay of Heisler’s Cloverleaf Dairy Bar, one that focussed on the golf course, and it, of course, brought back a flood of memories. Not enough to warrant the price wanted for the postcard, but a fond flood nonetheless.

My father worked for Heisler’s as a milkman when I was growing up. He was the “route man,” which meant he had to know all the other drivers’ regular routes, so he could fill in for them when they were on vacation. But I’m getting ahead of myself … I should probably explain what a milkman was, since it’s something pretty much lost in today’s world. (Even as I typed that word, auto-correct changed it to mailman.) A milkman delivered milk (and ice cream and other dairy-oriented products) to your home, early each morning. He placed it in a metal box on your front porch, and it was—hopefully—all fresh and still cold when you went out after you got up and brought it in. The milk was usually in glass bottles, although things like orange drink (not juice) were usually in cartons, as was ice cream.

Heisler’s Dairy was the brainchild of Morris Heisler, who was a bit of an entrepreneur. He branched out from just the dairy product delivery idea (started in the 1920s) to build a dairy bar in 1957, something that became an area landmark and attraction, a definite summertime destination. The dairy bar served traditional ice cream and milk shakes, plus hamburgers and BBQ sandwiches (really more like Sloppy Joes) and he invested early on in a soft pretzel machine, which fascinated me no end as a kid … you watched the pretzels, all cold and white, go in on a rotating rack and come out all hot and brown a few minutes later. Later he built an A-frame ski chalet type of building that was a waffle shop; a gift shop followed.

But Morris didn’t stop with food; he built an 18-hole miniature golf course, pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, adjacent to his dairy bar. It was just far enough out of town (about six miles from Tamaqua, my hometown, in what was known as the Lewistown Valley, which was largely farmlands) to be an outing, but close enough to be just a nice ride in the country on a summer’s eve. The golf course was designed by one of THE best miniature golf course builders in the country at the time, Holmes Cook. Eventually a driving range was added.

My dad worked at Heisler’s and quite frankly, it was a grueling job. He had to get up each morning at 2:00 AM to go to work in all kinds of weather. Most of my childhood was spent being shushed by my mom after school each day because my dad was sleeping. He’d get up for dinner, look at the newspaper, fall asleep on the couch while watching TV and then stagger off to bed around 10:00 PM. He wasn’t always really enthusiastic about driving out to his workplace for a round of miniature golf and a soft pretzel, and understandably so.

But we did, now and again, and I remember a lot about going there. I remember how we’d drive out of town, past a spooky little cave in the coal-mined mountains surrounding Tamaqua. The pleasant, if manure-smelling farmlands on the winding two-lane highway out to Heisler’s. The time we hit a deer right before we got there. The bright lights of the golf course inundated with moths, the parking lot packed with cars, the organ player on weekend nights, and The Whistler, a guy who sat on a bench and just whistled, usually accompanying the organ, but sometimes he just whistled on his own. The tangy BBQ sandwiches, the hot-and-salty soft pretzels, the thick milkshakes, the blueberry ice cream (why doesn’t anyone sell blueberry ice cream in supermarkets?). When you played miniature golf, the balls were all solid colors: blue, yellow, red, and green. When you putted into the 18th hole, the ball mysteriously disappeared down a chute that ended up in a basket in the golf course’s office to be used by other players.

When we drove back, we came the “other” way, over the mountain towards Tuscarora, a tiny town near Tamaqua, and onto Route 209. I would lay in the back seat of our car and my dad would be thrilled to get WKBW out of Buffalo on the radio on a clear, cool summer night, the signal fading in and out as we sped along the nearly deserted road down the mountain. We would go to other drive-ins, like Walt’s, which had a driving range, and was located catty-corner from the Valley Drive-In (for movies, not food), but none of them compared to Heisler’s Cloverleaf Dairy. It was truly a destination and a true sign that summer was here.

Heisler’s still stands … the original Cook golf course was torn down in 2003 and replaced, and I’m sure on warm summer nights, families still take the six-mile drive out to the Lewistown Valley and have some ice cream, play a round of miniature golf, and enjoy the fresh country air.

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